On the road repairs that every cyclist should know

Worried about breakdowns when riding far from home? Here’s 10 on-the-road repairs that every cyclist should know!

There are cyclists who worry about travelling too far from home. Why? Because they don’t know a spanner from a hammer! If you are one of them, fret not, learning these 10 basic on the road bike repairs will keep you pedalling for a long time. The more cycle repairs you learn, the farther away you will be willing to ride.

10 On the Road Repairs for Cyclist

1. Punctures: Tubes and tubeless. Changing tubes. Changing tyres.

The first and foremost skill that you must acquire when you purchase your new cycle is learning to repair a puncture, and all that goes with it! Once you master the fear of leaky rubber, you have won half the battle.

Tubes and Tubeless Repairs

Know what you have! Does your cycle have a tube or tubeless setup. Accordingly you need to carry the tools for repair. Patches, tyre levers, glue for repairing tubes, and plugs and insertion tool for tubeless tyres. Watch these videos for tube type and tubeless setup repairs, and practice it on an old tube/tyre! The sealant inside tubeless tyres normally seal it up without any effort from the rider, repairs are only required if the punctured hole is 2 mm or larger. Of course if it is too big, even the tyre plug will not be able to fix it. Which brings us to always carrying a spare tube.

TIP: Carry a mini pump preset to the valve type that your tube uses.

Changing Tubes

Repairing a punctured tube or tyre is easy. But more often than not, you would rather do it in the comfort of your home and not by the side of the road. It is more convenient to replace the punctured tube with a spare one you carry for that specific purpose.

TIP: Make sure beforehand your spare tube isn’t punctured as well!

Changing Tyres

This repair skill will not be required when on your training rides, races or even brevets. This is required only if you are doing a long tour and are carrying along a spare tyre. Changing a tyre is ever so slightly more complicated than changing a tube. Foldable spare tyres are perfect for lugging around.

Tip: Seat the new tyre by hand so tyre levers don’t damage the inner tube.

2. Loose Pedals and Installation

Your pedals can come loose over prolonged usage if not checked on regularly. While travelling with your bike, pedals are something that you will need to remove and put back. You will need a wrench for tightening the pedals, normally 15 mm or an alley key for some other models, normally 6 or 8 mm. Keep only the required tool for pedal disassembly. Unlike life, the universe and everything, pedals do not follow the rule of lefty loosey, righty tighty! The right and left side pedals tightens towards the front wheel, you can rotate the cranks backwards for tightening both.

Remembering the direction of pedal tightening will save you a lot of headache when you actually need to assemble your pedals! Most pedals are marked with Right and Left, so you don’t get them mixed up. Doing so can spoil the threads on the pedals and cranks. Watch this useful video to get it right!

TIP: Put the chain on the big chainring, this will save your skin from getting nicked on the sprocket teeth!

On the Road repair cyclist
The clip-less pedal clipped into the shoe as it came off the spindle!

3. Ripped Tyres

When your luck turns to merde, your tyre gets ripped. Torn rubber as you know is bad news! If it is tubeless, you will need to install a tube along with a small patch till you get a new tyre. For a tubed tyre, you will need to patch up the tyre, else the tube can bulge and cause a blowout. A variety of objects are used for emergency bike repairs on tyres. From cut out plastic bottles to wrapper from energy bars to proper tyre boots to duct tape!

Either which ways, repairing a torn tyre is temporary and a new tyre needs to be installed at first opportunity.

TIP: Fill the tube with a little less air than normal to prevent a blowout and ride cautiously on turns and broken road.

4. Bent Derailleur Hanger

Replaceable derailleur hangers are built to bend or break in case of a crash, thus saving your expensive frame. The hanger can bend even in a rather insignificant crash or even while careless transportation. Riding with a bent hanger will mess with the shifting of your gears, but it can get worse, with the derailleur jamming into the spokes of your wheel.

Shift the derailleur into the smallest cog and gently pull the hanger to align over this cog. Do not exert force on the derailleur cage, but only the hanger. Overdoing the pressure might cause the bent hanger to break, essentially jumping out of the frying pan!

TIP: Err on the side of caution by adjusting the lower limit screw to not allow the chain to go on the largest cog.

5. Wheels and Spokes

A loaded bicycle can often break spokes, mostly on the rear wheel, especially on the drivetrain side. This is because the maximum force is exerted on these spokes.

You will need spare spokes, a spoke key and a cassette removal tool to repair this on the road. Here prevention is better than cure, you should ideally check your spokes regularly, especially when riding average quality wheels.

If your wheel is wobbling, you need to tighten up those spokes. A good on the road repair system is to use the brake pads on the rim as markers and see where the wobble is. You need to tighten the spoke on the opposite side of the wheel. Keep checking and tightening till the wheel runs reasonably true!

TIP: You can ride some distance with a single broken spoke. Delay the repair too much and you will have more spokes breaking, since the load will be distributed on fewer spokes.

6. Chain Repair

Chains break. Generally at the most inopportune moment! A chain breaking tool along with master links should be carried on every ride. Much like a puncture this can happen anywhere and at anytime, leaving you stranded. And like punctures, you might meet cyclists, who have been riding for years without ever experiencing a break!

Use the chain breaker to pull out the offending link and click in the master link, presto, you are done. It is that easy when you have the tools and skill at hand. Check out this video to see how and practice on an old chain.

TIP: Hold the rear wheel/ brake with one hand and pedal the bike forward to seat the master link with minimal effort!

7. Replacing Brake Pads

This isn’t a cycling roadside repair that you will require to undertake on your regular rides. But on tours over weeks and months, this is an indispensable repair skill to possess. When riding in the hills, brake pads can wear out much faster than you expect. Riding with spent pads will damage the rim/ disc.

Carrying the required brake pads along with your regular cycling multi-tool is enough to change rim brakes. Disc brakes on the other hand are a slight bit trickier, and it is prudent to practice this at home a couple of times before embarking on your bike travel. With disc brakes, do not press the levers when the rotor isn’t in between the pads. Watch these videos for rim and disc brake pad replacement.

TIP: Brake pads need time to bed in, you will not have 100% efficiency immediately.

8. Replacing Brake/ Gear Cables

The unsung heroes of your cycle, cables. Your brake and gear cables are doing a lot of hard work as they are forever being engaged. Sitting inside cable housings, one often doesn’t notice a worn out cable. Until it is too late.

On your everyday ride you will not be carrying spare cables, neither will you need to replace them. You can limp your way home or to a bike shop with a broken cable. During a brevet or bike travel, it is wise to carry spare cables and the know-how of replacing them. See this video for replacing road brake cables, MTB brake cables and gear cables.

TIP: Replace your cables annually and keep the old cables as spares for emergency use.

9. Brake Adjustment

Brake pads wear out and needed to be adjusted. The pads might touch the rim/ disc continuously, thus wearing them out significantly faster. New pads need adjustment. Thus, the faster you learn this repair, the better for you.

Adjusting your brakes isn’t rocket science, nor does it take a month of Sundays. Once you figure it out, it is a 5-10 minute job. Brakes are available in a variety of styles, know which type your bike uses. Prepare accordingly. Brakes are an integral safety component of your bike, getting it wrong can be a threat to your life and limb. Practice and check many times at home before trying it out on the road.

Watch these videos for hydraulic discs, linear pull and dual pivot brakes.

TIP: Work on the front, check it and then work on the rear. In case you mess up the adjustment, you will at least have one working brake!

10. Adjusting saddle and handlebar

Ideally, once you get a proper bike fit, you will not need to make any adjustments for some time. But when you travel with your bike or buy new parts which effect the ergonomics, you might need to make adjustments to the saddle and/or handlebar.

This is possibly the repair which a new cyclist can easily learn. A new cyclist is also most likely to require these adjustments, until he/she is dialled in on the bike. Your bike multi-tool should ideally have the requisite Allen key levers to loosen the bolts on your saddle and handlebar.

TIP: Make incremental changes. Adjustments should be in millimetres and not inches.

Learning these handful of on the road repairs for cyclist will drive the fear of getting caught out. Once you have the confidence of dealing with breakdowns, you will be ready to ride to the ends of the earth…

…and if you still get stuck, remember you can always hitch a ride on a passing vehicle!

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Also read how to commute on your cycle safely in India and preventing cycling related injuries.

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